The First-Generation, Low-Income student organization (FGLI) at William & Mary promotes a sense of belonging and inclusion in the university community through advocacy, mentorship and leadership development. This is the second of two profiles on W&M students who credit the FGLI community for helping them flourish during their time at the university.

Persistence has led William & Mary student Orley Estrada ’23 to the doorstep of a family milestone.

He is on track to become the first college graduate in his family this spring, thanks to his determined pursuit of counsel from teachers, professors and friends along the way.

“Coming from an immigrant background and also relying on my teachers, I think I have always had people throughout my life since my childhood who have helped me get where I am,” said Estrada, a history/government double major from Amelia Court House, Virginia.

The son of Guatemalan immigrants who settled in the Richmond area two decades ago, Estrada was motivated by middle school and high school teachers to get good grades and earn a scholarship. And upon arriving at William & Mary, he was encouraged by professors to continue that hard work and find a supportive community.

Early in his time at W&M, Estrada discovered the First-Generation, Low-Income (FGLI) student organization and credits the relationships formed there for helping him thrive in college.

Founded by students in 2020, FGLI is part of W&M’s Office of Student Engagement & Leadership and promotes a sense of belonging and inclusion in the university community through advocacy, mentorship and leadership development.

“I remember my first semester, I felt very lonely on campus,” said Estrada, who is now co-president of FGLI while also serving as the undersecretary of socioeconomic affairs for student assembly. “I just did not feel like the student population was similar to me. I am an immigrant. I am low-income. And I struggled sometimes to pay for room and board. I struggled sometimes to pay for textbooks.”

Estrada, who earned full tuition as a William & Mary Scholar, says his parents have been supportive financially and emotionally throughout his journey, and he found great help at William & Mary through a network of faculty members and peers.

“We perform our best academically when we also have our community for support,” said Government Professor Dan Maliniak. “It was great to see Orley find that community in FGLI and to see the effect across his college experience.”

Estrada counted on Maliniak, his academic advisor, for help with things like registering for classes and declaring a major. Maliniak also encouraged Estrada to get involved in organizations on campus, including FGLI.

Following that advice, Estrada attended a FGLI event called an empowerment session, led by FGLI co-founders Vanessa Guzman ’21, M.S. ’22 and Jonathan Diaz-Ramos ’21, and immediately connected with the group.

“All the students were talking about the same issues that I had,” Estrada said. “One student was talking about how they could not afford their textbooks, and I could relate to that. Another student was talking about how they could barely pay off their tuition while also working a job and also doing academics.

“I could identify with the community, and from that initial empowerment session, I knew that FGLI was something that was very dear to me, and I really wanted to be part of that community.”

Through his roles in FGLI and the W&M Student Assembly, Estrada continues to explore ways William & Mary can support first-generation and low-income students who seek resources and community on campus.

In his previous role as chairman of the advocacy committee, Estrada created a website to connect students to FGLI. Furthermore, Estrada has worked to deepen the relationship between FGLI and university administration.

He is currently working with the university administration on establishing a mentorship program specifically tailored to FGLI students while also advocating for the establishment of a FGLI advisor.

“Ultimately, William & Mary has been benefited by FGLI because it has brought awareness to the FGLI community and has also tailored a lot of academic learning towards the FGLI community,” Estrada said.

Estrada plans to attend law school and wants to pursue a career in personal injury law. He was inspired by experiences he had interning with a law firm in Washington while participating in W&M’s American Politics Institute.

“I really enjoy the aspect of personal injury law, given that you help people from blue collar backgrounds,” said Estrada, who also participated in the St. Andrews study abroad program this past summer.

Estrada credits many people at William & Mary for helping him reach the doorstep to graduation. He urges current and future FGLI students to follow a similar route and “find someone to guide you, a guardian angel to provide advice and be your point of contact for resources,” Estrada said.

As he nears graduation, Estrada knows his parents are proud of his accomplishments.

“I know that I am resilient as a FGLI student because of my parents and the work that they have done in order to place me in an institution like William & Mary, because I know that going to this school is a privilege, and I know that a lot of Hispanic students who come from my background, who are low income, don’t have the opportunity that I have.

“I am really grateful to this institution for the financial aid that they have given me, through the mentorship that they have given me and just the knowledge they have given me at the end of the day, because I really have changed as an individual because of William & Mary. I know that my parents are going to be grateful in a few months when they see me walk through that graduation ceremony knowing that I’m the first person in my family to graduate with a college degree.”

, Communications Specialist